It was all going so well, this working from home thing.
Thirteen years ago, I’d had good reason to leave corporate life. No, it wasn’t that corporate life didn’t like me at all and was glad to see the back of me. Not just.
It’s that I was tired of the office thing. You know, walking down corridors and constantly having to mouth vacuous hullos.
And then there were the office intrigues. You can spend hours, days wondering whether the look that some important person gave you meant they still liked you, suddenly didn’t like you, or that they’d had a really hard night and were pleading for help.
Deciding to work from home was, therefore, the only sane choice for me — one greatly assisted by the rise of technology in the mid-2000s.
So much of (the awful parts of) corporate life could be avoided. You could suddenly do almost everything you needed — in my case — on a laptop. You could schedule conference calls for much greater convenience. You could start work (more or less) whenever you felt like it, disappear for minutes or even hours at a time, yet still communicate with those you had to. (Am I giving away too much here? It’s all in the past, of course.)
At heart,meant more personal freedom. It meant the essence of social distancing. Distancing from the strange, almost Masonic society of work.
It meant little freedoms. The freedom to do your shopping in the middle of the day, for example. Or the freedom to arrange your life so that occasionally one weekday might be reserved for sports, reading, or just lying on the sofa and staring at the ceiling.
Not that I’d ever do any of those things, of course. It was just good to know I could.
Which leads me to the real sadness of this supposedly being the Great Working-From-Home Experiment.
I’m told that CFOs can’t wait to make home offices a permanent thing for almost everyone. It’s cheaper. Employees pick up so many more of the costs themselves and think what you save on office space.
But the problem with the current working-from-home regime is that any true sense of freedom has been taken away.
Those experiencing working from home for the first time have much of the technological convenience and little of the personal liberty. Even more painful, this supposed experiment is being conducted under conditions of appalling stress.
As most of the country — and, indeed, the world — is subject to shelter-in-place orders, disappearing outside for sanity’s sake is much harder.
If you’re an employee, your co-workers assume you’re available all the time. Indeed, they assume you have to be at your laptop or computer because where else are you going to be?
Where’s the freedom in that?
Moreover, many employers want to put oh-so-clever tracking devices on your company gadgets so they know where you are. All the time.
And then you have all the additional demands of family members and pets to deal with. The additional noise, the additional distractions, and the additional whinings of your own human frustration. It all might make the office suddenly seem like a secluded Caribbean beach.
Of course, working from home isn’t the same for every profession, but first time working-from-homers are getting the worst of it, not the best.
They’re often in an even more constricted environment than at the office. They sit and stare at little heads all day on a screen and try to act serious.
I admit it’s even getting to me.
If you’re a consultant like me, you’ve also suddenly lost many of the daily freedoms you so enjoyed. You’re stuck at home and at the mercy of anything that might require your instant attention. You try and ignore your gadgets, yet the information they impart seems to follow you around like a disturbed dachshund.
You can’t get away to the fresh air so easily. Yes, you can decide you’re taking the day off, but somehow you feel a little bit more guilty.
Of course, this is a dire situation for the world, and there’s extremely good fortune in being able to work from home at all.
In truth, I’m likely pining for what used to be. A sense where working from home allowed one to breathe a little more deeply.
That’s gone, to be replaced by angst and a lot of people seemingly wearing the same clothes for the third day in a row. Or Zooming, as it’s now called.
But if this is your first experience of working from home, it doesn’t have to be like this. It can be a lot more enjoyable. Please don’t tell your CFO.